Jaime A. Yrastorza
Purpose Prize Fellow 2014
A maxillofacial surgeon, he developed a project to correct cleft palates and lips of indigent children in the Philippines through free surgery.
I’m originally from the Philippines but have lived in the U.S. since 1949, and I’ve practiced maxillofacial surgery for 35 years in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.
In 1988, I was part of a team that went to Ecuador to correct the facial asymmetry of children born with a complex deformity. The immense gratitude I received from the children felt like a precious and satisfying gift to be treasured for a lifetime.
Buoyed by the personal experience, I knew I had to return to the Philippines to help children who would otherwise spend their entire lives with physically and psychologically crippling facial deformities. I founded Uplift Internationale in 1989 to surgically correct the cleft lips and palates of indigent children in the Philippines, where the rate of these birth defects is twice as high as in Western countries. Repairing a cleft lip or palate is a simple surgery if it’s done early. And the benefits for children are lifelong. Beyond erasing the social stigma of a birth defect, children who receive surgery grow up to have fewer upper respiratory infections, hearing deficits, speech impediments or misaligned teeth and jaws.
- As many as 60 volunteers correct 100 facial deformities every year
- 1,500 surgeries have been performed by 690 volunteers at 11 hospitals in 25 years
- $500,000-worth of free medical care provided by volunteers annually
In our first year, I led a five-member dento-medical group on the inaugural mission of Operation Taghoy, which is Filipino for ‘whistle’ – one of several basic functions prevented by a facial cleft. And each year since, Uplift Internationale has returned with a 60-member team of medical professionals who in just two weeks perform as many as 100 surgeries on poor children. In 25 years, we’ve performed 1,500 free surgeries. Our volunteers have come from 18 states and seven countries. Every year, they donate around $500,000 worth of free medical care.
We work primarily at public hospitals, which are mandated to provide medical care to the impoverished – but are typically ill-funded, poorly-equipped and understaffed. Recently, we established a Cleft Clinic in Ormoc City, Leyte, that’s operated by a team from the Ormoc Medical Society. It provides surgical care to two children with facial deformities per month, year-round, for free. Uplift Internationale subsidizes the costs through supplies and equipment.
We hope to open more clinics throughout the Philippine archipelago to help spread local know-how of our procedures. In effect, the program lets Filipino expertise provide care to Filipino children.
Other than one part-time paid staff person, everyone else – including me – contributes to Uplift Internationale as a volunteer. This is a core element of the organization: promoting the concept of people-helping-people charitably, for no monetary gain.